Category Archives: Elections

Poll: Shumlin leads Milne by double digits

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is leading Republican challenger Scott Milne 48 percent to 36 percent, according to a poll released Friday by Rasmussen Reports.

According to Rasmussen, the survey of 700 likely voters in Vermont was conducted Aug. 28 to Aug. 29 by. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. Field work was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC.

The poll did not include Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano. Although Milne easily secured the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s primary, Feliciano was able to secure double digit support thanks to an aggressive write-in campaign. He will appear on the general election ballot as the Libertarian nominee.

Shumlin taps Coriell to head campaign

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Friday that he has tapped Scott Coriell to head his re-election bid, which will have a kick-off event on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Coriell has served as a special assistant to Shumlin since September 2013, and was previously the communications director for Democratic Rep. Peter Welch. Coriell will leave his position in the governor’s office immediately to begin working on the campaign.

“My campaign will focus on the challenges and opportunities facing our great state in the years ahead,” Shumlin a vacationing Shumlin said in a statement sent out by his campaign finance director. “We have made great progress, but I will not rest until all Vermonters have the economic security and quality of life they deserve. It has been a great honor to serve as Vermont’s governor and I look forward to traveling the state over the coming weeks and asking Vermonters for their support for two more years of progress.”

Details about the kick-off event will be released next week, according to the campaign.

Shumlin, Milne and Sorrell secure nominations

MONTPELIER — Tuesday’s primary was marked by low voter turnout and slow, tedious counting by election officials as they sorted through many ballots with write in votes.

Few Vermonters exercised their right to vote in the state’s primary Tuesday in which candidates looked to secure their party’s nominations for the general election in November. Clerks around the state reported a paltry showing from voters.

Most town and city clerks were expected to be counting and tallying results late into the night, well past deadline, thanks to aggressive write in campaigns waged by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano and Dean Corren, a Progressive running for lieutenant governor.

On the GOP ballot, gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne was declared the winner by the Associated Press just after 8 p.m. He defeated Republicans Emily Peyton and Steve Berry, and fended off the write in challenge by Feliciano.

With just 79, or 29 percent of the state’s 275 precincts reporting results at 8:45 p.m., Milne had tallied 70 percent of the vote, far ahead of both Peyton and Berry who both had about 6 percent. Write in votes, presumably most with Feliciano’s name, accounted for 17.5 percent of the reported votes.

Town and city clerks were mandated to report results to the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday night with the number of write in votes cast, but were not required to declare for whom those write in votes were cast.

“I’m very pleased to win. I was not surprised, I guess, but I think the low turnout could have been bad for me. My sense is that if there was a larger turnout my margin would have been higher,” Milne said. “Overall, I thought it was good for Vermont and I think it gives me a little more name recognition going into November, so I’m thankful for my opponents for that.”

Milne will now pivot from the primary to focus on defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who easily won his party’s nomination Tuesday. Milne said he will make the case that Shumlin has had “a really bad performance over the last four years.”

“We need to present ourselves as a credible alternative to Gov. Shumlin and I think we will do very well in the fall,” he said.

Corren was asking voters to write him in on the Democratic primary ballot to help him secure the nomination for both the Progressive and Democratic Parties. He will need at least 250 write in votes on the Democratic ballot for the party to endorse him. However, some party stalwarts, including Democratic Sens. Dick Mazza, Dick Sears and John Campbell, have endorsed the popular Republican incumbent Phil Scott.

As of 8:45 p.m., 1,245 write in votes had been cast, but it was unclear for whom. Some Democrats had pledged to write in Scott on the Democratic ballot in a bid to thwart Corren.

In the Democratic primary for governor, Shumlin was declared the winner early on by the Associated Press. He was way out ahead of challenger H. Brooke Paige. Shumlin had 76 percent of the vote to Paige’s 17 percent.

Paige was also badly trailing incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, also declared a winner by the AP, in that position’s primary. Sorrell had 79 percent to Paige’s 20 percent.

The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. representative was too close to call. With 92 precincts reporting, Mark Donka and Donald Russell were separated by one vote and had 34 percent of the vote each. Donald Nolte had tallied 27 percent of the vote.

Turnout, as expected, was extremely low. The percentage of registered voters that cast ballots Tuesday was unknown Tuesday night, but looked like it could be one of the worst showings in recent history.

In Barre Town, by 2:30 p.m. only 227 voters had cast ballots out of a possible 5,464 voters on the checklist, according to Town Clerk Donna Kelty.

“It’s been realy, really, slow here,” Kelty said. “We rarely have great turnout for primary elections In our municipality it was the first day of school so people had other things on their minds.”

In Bennington, both of the town’s House districts featured a contest on the Democratic ballot. In the Bennington 2-2 district, four Democrats were running for two spots on the November ballot. Results were not available as of 8:45 p.m.

Still, not even that contested race with well-known candidates could drive voters to the polls in large numbers.

“It doesn’t look like it’s huge,” Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran said about turnout. “Even with those it’s not real huge.”

Corcoran said a lack of contested statewide races on the Democratic side was a major reason for the lack of interest among voters.

“There’s no real statewide races. Nobody votes in the Republican primary,” he said.

Kelty said the state’s late August primary is a main reason for the low turnout. Moving the primary to earlier in the year would like boost turnout, she said.

“I would agree 100 percent with that. If I could pick and choose I think a good time for a primary would be mid-June,” Kelty said. “That would allow ample time for the secretary of state’s office to prepare ballots for the general election.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Milne launches TV ad

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne has launched his first television commercial as the primary approaches next week.

The ad, which will be running on WPTZ, Fox 44/ABC 22 and WCAX through the primary, features footage from Milne’s campaign kickoff event last month in Barre. Former Republican Gov. James Douglas is prominently featured, calling Milne the next governor of Vermont.

“Internally, I think sort of the campaign family, we’re stoked about it. I think it’s very, very good and I’m appreciative of all the support from Gov. Douglas,” Milne said Tuesday.

The commercial also shows footage of Milne’s mother, former GOP state Rep. Marion Milne, who passed away on Aug. 11.

Milne said his campaign is spending just over $20,000 on the commercial through next Tuesday.

 

Lawmakers launch new PAC

MONTPELIER — A pair of moderate lawmakers — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — have launched a nonpartisan PAC aimed at electing candidates that seek “fiscal responsibility” and “balanced, common-sense public policies.”

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Reps. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, who is not seeking reelection, announced the new political action committee, Vision to Action Vermont, on Monday. The duo, who have worked together on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee for the past four years, say they want to “encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.”

“I am very excited to launch this new endeavor,” Scheuermann, who flirted with a run for governor earlier this year, said in a press release. “For many years, I have advocated strongly for a long-term, comprehensive strategy for economic growth in Vermont, and this organization will help bring that focus to the forefront.”

Ralston said November’s election is key, with lawmakers set to tackle health care, property taxes and “taxes in general” during the next legislative biennium that will have an impact on the state’s small businesses and families.

Rep. Paul Ralston

Rep. Paul Ralston

“We must be sure that those in elected positions address those issues thoughtfully and independently, and with an eye toward the benefits and consequences to our economy,” he said in the release.

The PAC plans to raise money to support, promote and endorse candidates of all parties “who are committed to policies of true economic growth, and show great leadership, strength, and independence, yet do so with compassion and respect.”

Milne admits past health, legal troubles

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne revealed in a statement to reporters Thursday that he was arrested three times in college and suffered a stroke in 2006.

The arrests, two for driving under the influence of alcohol and one for possession marijuana and cocaine, all resulted in convictions. Milne said in a telephone interview Thursday that the cases were “settled as expeditiously as possible without spending money on counsel.”

“I don’t think about them on a daily basis, but my presumption is they are part of the public record,” he said.

In 2006, Milne suffered an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot in his brain. He said he has made a full recovery, suffers “very little residual effect,” and has been cleared by doctors to campaign and serve as governor.

“Basically, I have a little bit of numbness on one side of my buddy and that really is about it,” Milne said.

He gave credit for his recovery to his daughter who he said sought immediate medical attention when the stroke occurred.

Milne, who has yet to formally launch his campaign, said he wanted the information about his past to be out in the open. He said facts about his past “might be important and relevant” to supporters.

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

“I think we wanted to get it out. If we started to campaign earlier we would have sent it out a lot earlier,” he said. “It was a consideration when I was weighing whether or not to run.”

Milne, in the statement sent to reporters, said “Vermonters have a right to a governor who is upfront and transparent.” He promised transparency about his personal life as well as the “economic challenges and crisis of affordability we face as a state.”

House approves campaign finance measure

MONTPELIER — The Housed passed a campaign finance reform bill Thursday on a bipartisan vote following a conference committee with Senate negotiators.

The legislation sailed through the House on a 124 to 15 roll call vote, but some members are disappointed in the final version of the legislation. The plan will raise some contribution limits.

House and Senate negotiators met out of session over the last several months after failing to reach agreement before the end of the 2013 legislative session. They  signed off on a compromise plan Tuesday, the first day of the 2014 legislative session.

The agreement will allow individuals, corporations and PACs  to contribute twice as much money — from $2,000 to $4,000 — directly to statewide candidates and PACs.

Meanwhile, political parties can now raise $10,000 directly from those same groups, up from $2,000, and up to $60,000 from their national parties.

Candidates for the Legislature will see a decrease in the contributions they can currently receive. Contributions to House candidates will capped at $1,000, while contributions to Senate candidates will be reduced to $1,500.

Political parties will be able to funnel unlimited amounts of money to candidates, however.

Independent and Progressive candidates said that provides an unfair advantage to Democrats and Republicans who can receive unlimited funding from their respective parties.

Some House members addressed the chamber to explain their votes, saying they voted in favor of the bill because it is time for the state to have limits in place.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, a Democrat from Arlington, said she voted against the bill because the contribution limits are too high and more disclosure should be required closer to elections. The bill is “not enough to even be called campaign finance reform,” she said.

The Senate will consider the compromise bill next week.

Christie fundraiser sells out

MONTPELIER — The Vermont GOP’s Welcome Winter Gala featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has sold out, according to a party official.

Brent Burns, the state GOP’s political director, wrote to supporters Monday with the news. Party officials “have been absolutely overwhelmed by the excitement it has generated among Vermonters across the political spectrum,” he wrote.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

The event, set for Dec. 11 at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex, is being hosted by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann. Christie, who easily won a second term earlier this month over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, is likely to headline the Vermont GOP’s most successful event ever, according to Burns

“It has been a long time since we’ve enjoyed this kind of enthusiasm, and we couldn’t be more proud. We have already sold more than 600 seats and this event promises to be the most successful VTGOP event of all time,” he wrote.

No additional tickets can be reserved at this time. But Burns said the party is looking at options to allow more people to attend and is generating a waiting list if additional tickets can be sold.

The Vermont GOP recently reorganized and elected a new party chairman following a public, intra-party spat between party factions. The Christie fundraiser is “just the beginning of the revitalization of the Vermont Republican Party in Vermont,” Burns wrote.

Democratic PAC settles with state

MONTPELIER — A Democratic PAC must may a $30,000 penalty for violating the state’s campaign finance law during the 2010 election.

Green Mountain Future, a political action committee created by the Democratic Governors Association has settled with the state for the $30,000 penalty, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced Wednesday.

The settlement, which has been approved by the Vermont Superior Court, requires GMF to pay the state a civil penalty of $20,000 for failing to include its address on its website or in television ads that ran during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. GMF must also pay a $10,000 penalty the court had previously imposed for not registering as a PAC and filing campaign finance reports.

“Voters are legally entitled to know who is seeking to influence them,” Sorrell said a statement. “PACs need to obey the laws. They cannot hide. They must disclose their identity, including their address, their donors, and their expenditures, to the extent required by law.”

GMF spent more than $500,000 during the 2010 campaign on political ads. Television ads attacking Republican candidate Brian Dubie, the state’s former lieutenant governor, aired thousands of times but did not include complete identifying information. The public had no way of knowing who was behind the ads because GMF did not file required reports, Sorrell said.

The Vermont Superior Court determined that GMF violated Vermont’s campaign finance laws in Dec. 2011 but did not impose a financial penalty for its failure to fully identify itself in ads.

The Vermont Supreme Court then ruled in September that the lower court erred in not imposing a penalty. In its decision the Vermont Supreme Court said “the difficulty of calculating a penalty [does not] mean that no penalty can be awarded.”

The case returned to the trial court for consideration of an appropriate penalty. The settlement announced Wednesday closes out the only remaining issue in the enforcement action, Sorrell said.

Sunderland elected chairman of GOP, promises to “change the way we do business”

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  Former Rutland Town representative David Sunderland gives a speech before being elected chair of the Vermont Republican Party during their convention in Montpelier Nov. 9.

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Former Rutland Town representative David Sunderland gives a speech before being elected chair of the Vermont Republican Party during their convention in Montpelier Nov. 9.

Escalating discord within the Vermont Republican Party came to a head Saturday in Montpelier, where the organization’s state committee rebuked current leadership by selecting a new chairman who promises “to rebuild.”

Former Rutland Town Rep. David Sunderland won a decisive victory over John MacGovern on a platform that hews to the fiscal issues – taxes, health care and spending – on which he said all Republicans can agree.

The race between Sunderland and MacGovern was in many ways a proxy war between two factions that have been battling for nearly a year now. And it represents a win for a bloc of disaffected Republicans who faulted outgoing chairman Jack Lindley for his allegiance to a Republican National Committee whose social conservatism, they said, repelled the centrists that swing elections Vermont.

“At this critical, pivotal moment in our party’s history, we have a unique opportunity to change,” Sunderland told the nearly 200 GOP diehards crowded into the Elks Club in Montpelier. “We can change the way we do business, shedding the past legacies of top-down management and opting instead for teamwork, openness and transparency.”

Candidates for positions on the party’s governing board offered kind words to Lindley, who nearly died last month after falling suddenly ill. But their remarks about the state of the party amounted to a stinging indictment of his tenure. Continue reading

Christie to headline GOP fundraiser

MONTPELIER — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the featured guest at the Vermont Republican Party’s “Welcome Winter Gala” fundraiser next month.

The event, hosted by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, will be held at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction on Dec. 11. The invitation, which went out Thursday morning, promises Vermont food, beverages and entertainment.

Christie won re-election on Tuesday by a comfortable margin over his Democratic challenger Barbara Buono.

Tickets to the event are $50 per person. For $1,000, a couple can attend a private reception with Christie.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (courtesy photo)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (courtesy photo)

Legalize it? Shumlin welcomes new cannabis debate in Vermont

In the wake of a federal memorandum that appears to condone the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Gov. Peter Shumlin said he’s “open to further discussion” about instituting similar cannabis laws here.

The Department of Justice issued a long-awaited directive last week that outlines a hands-off approach for dealing with producers and sellers of marijuana in states that have legalized the plant, so long as those states have put in place “a strong and effective state regulatory system.”

Shumlin, a longtime proponent of cannabis reform, signed into law earlier this year the decriminalization legislation he spent years pushing through the Statehouse. Just two months after that law took effect, the second-term Democrat said he’s ready to talk about going further.

“I applaud the Department of Justice for being more clear about how they’re going to enforce legislative issues of small amounts of marijuana,” Shumlin said Tuesday. “And I am open to a further discussion in Vermont about what makes the most sense for this state.”

Shumlin hasn’t sought to bring the issue to the fore, and his comments about marijuana Tuesday came in response to questions from reporters on hand for a press conference on an unrelated issue.

But the politically astute governor also hasn’t been shy about talking about the issue, and, as Seven Days reported last month, Shumlin is scheduled to participate in a fundraising conference call later this month with the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy outfit pushing for legalization. The subject of the call: “to discuss our strategy for legalizing marijuana nationwide over the next four years.”

During the debate over decriminalization, Shumlin said legalization would fly too aggressively in the face of federal statutes that now classify marijuana as Schedule I narcotic with no medicinal value. In light of the new DOJ stance, however, Shumlin said he’s ready to talk legalization.

Toensing’s arrival ushers in new chapter to Shumlin/Dodge land dispute

A high-profile attorney with ties to the Republican Party has become the newest character in an ongoing saga featuring the governor of Vermont and his ill-fated land deal.

Brady Toensing, whose former clients include Republican candidate for governor Brian Dubie, has signed on to represent Jeremy Dodge, the jilted East Montpelier landowner seeking to regain the 16-acre homestead he sold to Peter Shumlin last fall.

Dodge’s children say Shumlin exploited their troubled father by using the threat of an imminent tax sale to snap up for $58,000 a property valued by town listers at $140,000.

But what has until now been a neighborly dispute could soon turn political as Toensing, a veteran Republican operative, enters the fray.

Toensing on Tuesday denied any partisan motivations. In his lone statement to the press, he said he welcomes “the opportunity to assist a fellow Vermonter.”

“Mr. Dodge has been dealing with a sophisticated and shrewd businessman, a businessman who is also the most powerful person in Vermont, represented by one of the best lawyers money can buy,” Toensing said. “Mr. Dodge clearly needed some help.”

Toensing has represented Dubie on at least two occasions, most recently in 2011, when the state alleged that Dubie ran afoul of campaign-finance laws in his 2010 bid for governor by sharing polling data with the Republican Governors Association.

Toensing brokered a settlement in which Dubie paid a $10,000 civil penalty and made a $10,000 contribution to the Vermont Food Bank, though he never had to admit wrongdoing.

Toensing is a resident of Charlotte. But he is a partner at the storied diGenova & Toensing, LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm founded by his step-father and mother. In a 1998 Washington Post article, reporter Howard Kurtz described Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing as a “classic Washington power couple,” taking to media airwaves to foment political scandal on behalf of Republican interests.

Prior to joining the family firm, Brady Toensing worked as a legislative assistant in the early 1990s for Warren B. Rudman, the two-term U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.

Shumlin has retained his own politically connected lawyer in the form of Jerry Diamond, the former three-term attorney general who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1980 – a race he lost to Republican Richard Snelling.

For more on this story, check out tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Conservative super PAC back in action with mailings that hit Dems over new taxes

The conservative super PAC “Vermonters First” is venturing back into legislative politics, this time with a statewide mailing that hammers Democratic lawmakers for proposed increases on a slew of taxes.

Earlier this year, Vermonters First, which spent about $1 million on behalf of Republican candidates during the last election cycle, aired a series of 15-second television ads calling Dems on the carpet for a proposed increase in the gas tax.

The group, funded almost exclusively (as of the latest campaign-finance disclosure deadlines) by Burlington heiress Lenore Broughton, is out now with glossy tri-folds, which began arriving Tuesday in the mailboxes of voters in districts with Democrats in the House.

“(Your representative here) just voted to go on a massive taxing spree!” the mailing says.

A photograph of a shopping cart filled with a pair of jeans, gas can, miniature house, cup of soda and a burger symbolizes the suite of provisions in three revenue bills passed by the Vermont House so far this yaer.

The House’s $23 million revenue bill would eliminate the sales tax exemption on soft drinks, candy, bottled water and items of clothing that cost more than $110. The legislation also raises the meals tax for a year, and would raise income taxes on rich people. An education-funding bill passed in February, meanwhile, would send property tax rates up by 5 cents.

“The high cost of living in Vermont is going to get worse if Democratic (your rep’s name here) gets her way,” the mailer says.

The coup de grace: a perforated tear-off, onto which Vermonters First has already printed the home address of the Democratic rep, that encourages voters to “write your own personal message” to the officeholder.

Broughton cried foul last year when a group of single-payer advocates picketed outside her Burlington home in protest of her media blitzes.

Vermonters First’s lone staff, Tayt Brooks, didn’t respond to requests for comment, as usual. But the mailings indicate that Broughton is as committed as ever to ending one-party rule, and is willing to spend a lot of money to get it done.

Vt. GOP struggle: Go moderate? Or stay the course of conservative?

Phill Scott

Phil Scott

They’ve descended to super-minority status in both the House and Senate, and lay claim to just one of Vermont’s six statewide offices.

By the numbers at least, the once-dominant Vermont Republicans have reached a new low in their years-long fall from grace. Their fight for the future, however, is being waged not with the Democrats that so embarrassed them in the last two election cycles, but among fellow Republicans vying against each other for control of the party’s organizational apparatus.

The emergence of two factions — one led by Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jack Lindley, the other by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — has pitted the old-guard GOP against a cadre of upstart reformists looking to put some distance between themselves and the Republican National Committee.

As a group led by Scott pieces together a statewide re-branding strategy aimed at picking up the centrists and Independents he says have been turned off by the party in recent years, Lindley and others are beginning to push back against a plan that would, in Lindley’s words, “turn its back on the national party.”

“I’m not about to go down the road of trying to have a party in Vermont that’s Democrat-lite,” Lindley said in an interview last week.
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